Category Archives: Italian Navy

The Italian BR-1150 Atlantic Has Completed Its Last Flight Ending An Impressive 45-year Career

The Italian Air Force bid farewell to the Breguet Atlantic. And Here Are Some Of The Most Significant Moments Of Its 45-year Career.

On Nov. 22, 2017, the Italian Air Force retired its last BR-1150 Atlantic with a final flight from Sigonella to Pratica di Mare.

The aircraft MM40118/41-03, the Atlantic in special color scheme that had been unveiled during a ceremony held at Sigonella on Sept. 21, will now be transported and then exhibited in the ItAF Museum in Vigna di Valle. The first of 18 MPA (Maritime Patrol Aircraft) with ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) capabilities Atlantic aircraft, the BR-1150 MM40108 was taken on charge by the Aeronautica Militare at Toulouse, France, on Jun. 27, 1972. On the very same day, after a stopever in Nimes, France, the aircraft landed at Sigonella, for the very fist time at 16.25LT. The retirement has come after 45 years and almost 260,000 flying hours (actually 258K) logged by a fleet made of 18 aircraft.

The first Atlantic, MM400108/41-70, about to land for the first time at Sigonella at the end of its delivery flight on Jun. 27, 1972. (all images: ItAF)

The Atlantic flies in formation with the Grumman S-2F Tracker, the aircraft it replaced, close to the Etna, in 1972.

Throughout its career, the Atlantic flown by mixed Air Force/Navy crew of 13 people in missions lasting up to 12 hours (actually the record of the Italian BR-1150 is 19 hours and 20 minutes!), carried out thousand Maritime Patrol, ASW and ASuW (Anti-Surface Warfare – limited to the reconnaissance and surveillance part since the aircraft was not equipped with ASuW weapons) sorties as well as Maritime SAR (Search And Rescue) operations taking part also in hundreds exercises: from Dawn Patrol back in 1973 to the recent Dynamic Manta, the BR-1150 have played a role in the Display Determination, Dog Fish, Vento Caldo, Daily Double, Mare Aperto, Tridente, Deterrent Force, Passex, Storm Two, Fleetex, Sharp Guard, Destined Glory, Tapoon and many more ones. The aircraft has flown to the North Pole in 1997, landed at all the major European airports, including Iceland, and reached India, Morocco, Canada, Egypt, Lebanon, UAE and the U.S.

The aircraft was flown by a mixed Air Force/Navy crew of 13 people.

A formation of BR-1150 aircraft in 1994.

In 1997, the Italian Atlantic reached the North Pole.

Two units operated the type within the Italian Air Force (each being assigned 9 aircraft): the 41° Stormo (Wing), with its 88° Gruppo (Squadron) at Sigonella, and the 30° Stormo with its 86° Gruppo at Cagliari Elmas. The latter was disbanded on Aug. 1, 2002 with all the Breguet Atlantic aircraft (“P-1150A” in accordance with the current Italian Ministry of Defense Mission Design Series) taken on charge by the 41th Wing.

Although to a far lesser extent than the French Atlantique 2 (ATL2), that have been upgraded to extend their operative life beyond 2030 adding further capabilities, the Italian Atlantic fleet has undertaken a limited operational update between 1987 and 1997, as part of the ALCO (Aggiornamento Limitato Componente Operativa) programme, that has included, among the others and in different times, new INS (Intertial Navigation System), IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) system, along with new Iguane radar and ESM (Electronic Support Measures) sensors to perform electronic reconnaissance/surveillance systems as well as AIS (Automatic Identification System).

Approaching a warship during a sortie from Sigonella in 2009.

An ItAF P-1150A during a maritime surveillance mission in 2010.

The Atlantic will be partially replaced by the P-72, a multirole Maritime Patrol, Electronic Surveillance and C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence) aircraft that shares many sensors and equipments which were developed for the ATR 72ASW developed by Leonardo for the Turkish Navy. However, the Italian P-72A fleet, that will be made of four aircraft, the first of those delivered to the 41° Stormo on Nov. 25, 2016, lacks an ASW (Anti-Sub Warfare) capability and this is the reason why it is considered a “gap filler” until the budget to procure a Long Range MPA with ASW capabilities will become available.

The Atlantic and the P-72 flew alongside during the very last flight of the Atlantic, from Sigonella to Pratica di Mare on Nov. 22, 2017.

Anyway, the P-72A, that has already debuted in real operations conducting intelligence gathering and electronic surveillance missions during the G7 meeting in Taormina, in May 2017, can undertake a variety of roles ranging from maritime patrol for the search and identification of surface vessels, SAR (search and rescue) missions, the prevention of narcotics trafficking, piracy, smuggling, territorial water security and monitoring and intervention in the event of environmental catastrophes. The P-72A is equipped with a communication suite that enables the aircraft to transmit or receive information in real-time to/from command and control centres either on the ground, in the air or at-sea, to ensure coordinated and effective operations. The aircraft is also equipped with a self-protection system. The aircraft is said to be able to fly missions lasting six and a half hours at ranges up to 200 nautical miles from its starting location.

The last Atlantic at Sigonella on Nov. 21, the sunset before its last flight.

The very last take off from Sigonella on Nov. 22, 2017. The end of an era.

The aircrew of the last flight.

 

During 45 years and about 260,000 FH, the Italian Atlantic fleet suffered no losses.

The author wishes to thank 1°M. Carmelo Savoca of the 41° Stormo for providing information about the aircraft as well as the stunning official images you can find in this post.

The Italian Air Force Bids Farewell To The Breguet BR-1150 Atlantic MPA (With A Special Color Aircraft), Welcomes The New Leonardo P-72A

The BR-1150 Atlantic is about to be retired and (partially) replaced by the Leonardo P-72A.

With a ceremony held at Sigonella airbase and attended by the Italian Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Enzo Vecciarelli, and Italian Navy Chief of Staff, Adm. Valter Girardelli, the 41° Stormo (Wing) of the ItAF bid farewell to the Breguet BR-1150 (P-1150A in accordance with the Italian Mission Design Series) Atlantic, a Maritime Patrol Aircraft with ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) capabilities that is about to be retired after 45 years of service and more than 250,000 flight hours.

BR-1150 MM40115/41-77 and P-72A MM62298/41-03 during the ceremony at Sigonella on Sept. 21, 2017.

The Atlantic, that operates a mixed Air Force/Navy crew of 13 people in missions lasting up to 12 hours (actually the record of the Italian BR-1150 is 19 hours and 20 minutes!), will continue to fly through November, even though its final operational flight is planned for October. Since the beginning of its service, the Italian Atlantic aircraft have carried out Maritime Patrol and ASW missions, Maritime SAR (Search And Rescue) support and have taken part in hundreds exercises: from Dawn Patrol back in 1973 to the recent Dynamic Manta, the BR-1150 have played a role in the Display Determination, Dog Fish, Vento Caldo, Daily Double, Mare Aperto, Tridente, Deterrent Force, Passex, Storm Two, Fleetex, Sharp Guard, Destined Glory, Tapoon and many more ones. The aircraft has flown to the North Pole in 1997, landed at all the major European airports, including Iceland, and reached India, Morocco, Canada, Egypt, Lebanon, UAE and the U.S.

Last year, the aircraft has also supported the very first F-35’s transatlantic flight taking off from Sigonella on Sept. 20, 2016 and landing at Portsmouth, U.S., after 8,000 miles and more than 30 flight hours.

During the ceremony at Sigonella, the 88° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 41° Stormo unveiled the final Atlantic special color (MM40118/41-03).

The final Atlantic special color (MM40118/41-03).

Since Nov. 25, 2016, the 41° Stormo has started transitioning to the new P-72A, a military variant of the ATR 72-600. The Italian Air Force has received the first two of four P-72A MPA ordered back in 2014; the delivery of the remaining two aircraft is planned by the end of the year.

The P-72A can undertake a variety of roles ranging from maritime patrol for the search and identification of surface vessels, SAR (search and rescue) missions, the prevention of narcotics trafficking, piracy, smuggling, territorial water security and monitoring and intervention in the event of environmental catastrophes. The P-72A is equipped with a communication suite that enables the aircraft to transmit or receive information in real-time to/from command and control centres either on the ground, in the air or at-sea, to ensure coordinated and effective operations. The aircraft is also equipped with a self-protection system. The aircraft is said to be able to fly missions lasting six and a half hours at ranges up to 200 nautical miles from its starting location.

Although it is a multirole Maritime Patrol, Electronic Surveillance and C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence) aircraft that shares many sensors and equipments which were developed for the ATR 72ASW developed by Leonardo for the Turkish Navy, the P-72A lacks an ASW (Anti-Sub Warfare) capability: for this reason it is considered a “gap filler” until the budget to procure a Long Range MPA with ASW capabilities will become available.

Meanwhile, the P-72A has already started flying operational sorties, as happened during the G7 meeting in Taormina, in May 2017, when the two brand new MPA of the 41° Stormo were used to perform intelligence gathering and electronic surveillance missions.

One of the two brand new Leonardo P-72A MPA of the 41° Stormo.

All photos: Author

First F-35B Assembled Internationally Rolled Out of Cameri FACO Production Facility

It’s the first F-35B assembled outside of the U.S.

On May. 5, the first F-35B, the Short Take-Off Vertical Landing variant of the the F-35 Lightning II, destined to the Italian Navy, rolled out of the Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility at Cameri, in northwestern Italy.

The aircraft, designated BL-1, is the first F-35B assembled internationally. It is expected to perform its first flight in late August and will be delivered to the Italian MoD in November 2017. After a series of “confidence flights” from Cameri, an Italian pilot will fly the first F-35B jet to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, early in 2018 to conduct required Electromagnetic Environmental Effects certification. The next Italian F-35B aircraft is scheduled for delivery in November 2018.

According to a Lockheed Martin release, besides the first B example, two Italian F-35A aircraft will be delivered from Cameri this year, the first by July and the second in the fourth quarter. To date, seven F-35As have been delivered from the Cameri FACO; four of those jets are now based at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, for international pilot training and three are at Amendola Air Base, near Foggia on the Adriatic coast. With these aircraft based in Italy and flown by the 13° Gruppo, the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) has already flown more than 100 flight hours.

In spite of a very low profile on the subject, Italy has achieved some important results with the F-35.

On Dec. 3, 2015, the ItAF welcomed the first F-35 at the Cameri FACO. That aircraft was also the first assembled and delivered outside the U.S.

On Feb. 5, 2016 the first Italian Air Force F-35, successfully completed the type’s very first transatlantic crossing landing at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. On Dec. 12, 2016, the Italian Air Force became the first service to take delivery of the first operational F-35s outside the United States.

“Italy is not only a valued F-35 program partner that has achieved many F-35 program ‘firsts’, but is also a critical NATO air component force, providing advanced airpower for the alliance for the coming decades,” Doug Wilhelm, Lockheed Martin F-35 Program Management vice president, said at the event for the roll out of the first F-35B. “Italian industry has participated in the design of the F-35 and Italian industry made components fly on every production F-35 built to date.”

The Italian FACO, a 101-acre facility including 22 buildings and more than one million square feet of covered work space, housing 11 assembly stations, and five maintenance, repair, overhaul, and upgrade bays, is owned by the Italian Ministry of Defense and is operated by Leonardo in conjunction with Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. According to Lockheed, 800 skilled personnel are engaged in full assembly of the Conventional Take-off/Landing F-35A and F-35B aircraft variants and is also producing 835 F-35A full wing sets to support all customers in the program.

The Cameri FACO has the only F-35B production capability outside the United States. It will assemble the 60 Italian F-35As and 30 F-35Bs (for a total of 90 aircraft to be procured by the Italian Air Force and Navy), will build 29 F-35A for the Royal Netherlands Air Force and was selected in December 2014 as the European F-35 airframe Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul and Upgrade center for the entire European region.

In spite of some initial internal criticism and threatened cuts, F-35s will replace the Italian Air Force ageing Tornado and AMX attack planes and the Italian Navy AV-8B aircraft.

Image credit: LM

 

Camp Bastion attack could be U.S. Marine Corps Harrier fleet’s ground zero

As already explained, the recent Taliban attack on Camp Bastion, that cost the U.S. the worst air loss to enemy fire in one day since the Vietnam War, almost wiped out the entire U.S. Marine Harrier force in Afghanistan: besides killing two Marines, including the Commanding Officer of Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 211, six AV-8B+ aircraft were destroyed and two more severly injured.

Since the VMA-211 “Avengers” had deployed to Afghanistan with 10 airframes, only two Harriers survived the insurgent attack in one of the strategical airbases in Afghanistan (aircraft that were immediately returned to the U.S.).

In other words, in a matter of a hours, the U.S., that had moved VMA-211 from Kandahar to Camp Bastion on Jul.1 to have the planes closer to where the troops need support, not only lost one of its most valuable CAS (Close Air Support) platforms in Afghanistan, but also about 1/15th of the entire American Jump Jet fleet.

Even though you may believe that the loss of 8 Harriers is not a big deal when you have a fleet of 120+ such planes, you have to consider that  about 15 planes are TAV-8B two seater jump jets used for training purposes, along with about the same amount of single seaters.

Moreover, of the remaining Harriers (about 100), not all airframes can be used in combat with the same effectiveness, because the U.S. Marine Corps, along with the upgraded AV-8B+ (like those destroyed at Camp Bastion), that features the APG-65 Radar and the Litening pod, flies also the less capable AV-8B.

Hence the extent of losses suffered in Afghanistan is higher than the 7 percent and could be a big deal for the U.S. Marine Corps that has to carefully ration the employment of the Harriers if it wants to keep the AV-8B+ in service beyond 2030, when it will eventually be replaced by the F-35B.

Well before the Camp Bastion attack, to increase the availability of spare parts and extend the life of the Harrier, the Marines procured second hand RAF Harrier GR9s.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

The second generation AV-8B Harrier, developed in the first ’80s, was well suited for U.S. Marine Corps requirement for a Close Air Support aircraft able to give effective tactical support to amphibious landing operations. Over the years, it was also upgraded to carry AMRAAM missiles, JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions), and today the plane (operating also with both the Spanish and Italian Navy) is able to undertake CAS missions, naval Theater Air Defense and precision Air-to-Ground tasks.

That’s why the Harrier is so important for the U.S. Marine Corps.

Beyond the AV-8B+

The USMC and the Italian Navy plan to replace their Harriers with the F-35B, the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) version of the JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) conceived for Jump Jet users: U.S. Marines, IT Navy and Royal Navy / Royal Air Force (the first “international” F-35 is the F-35B BK-01 / ZM135, that made its maiden flight in April 2012). Althought it’s not among the AV-8B+ operators, the Italian Air Force is expected to operate 15 F-35Bs along with 60 F-35As.

The STOVL aircraft will be a swing role platform suited to be effective in a net-centric environment, where it will perform both sensor and shooter roles. But it will not be fully operational before the late 2020s, and the USMC is planning to upgrade its Harriers in order to keep them in service until a significant amout of F-35Bs will be operational.

Not only the USMC will have to upgrade the jump jets.

Probably, both Spanish and Italian Navy will have no choice but to upgrade their Harriers, which could be really effective with SDBs (Small Diameter Bombs) and new avionics, considering that the Air Superiority within a naval group area of operations is provided by the combination of both airborne and ship-based capabilities.

Nevertheless, since it doesn’t partecipate to the JSF program, Spain will probably lose its embarked fixed wing component if it doesn’t acquire the F-35B.

Written with The Aviationist’s “Skipper”

Italian Coast Guard base Catania Fontanarossa unveiled

On Aug. 31, 2012, the 2° Nucleo Aereo (Flight Group) of the Guardia Costiera (Coast Guard), based at the Catania-Fontanarossa airport (next to the famous trans-Mediterranean international hub), changed his Commanding Officer.

With a simple ceremony, Commander Andrea Vitali handed the command over to the new C.O., Capt. Rosario Capodicasa, who will have to manage the transformation of the unit.

In fact, the ITCG 2° Nucleo Aereo, which is seriously involved in the rescue duties within the Italian MRCC AOR (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre Area Of Responsibility), is also changing its equipment: it is dismissing the oldest assets, like the 30,000 hours-flown (since 1988) Piaggio P-166 DL-3 SEM “Orca” (Sorveglianza Ecologica Marittima, Maritime Ecologic Surveillance), and working hard with the new Piaggio P-180 CP planes and AW-139 CP “Nemo” helo (assigned to the 2^ Sezione Aerea).

During the ceremony, which took place inside the unit’s main hangar, visitors and media were given the opportunity to see all the flight lines of the ITCG aviation. Indeed, the 2° Nucleo is the only one which flies all the Corps assets: the ATR-42 MP “Manta” (where “MP” stands for “Multi Purpose” and not for “Maritime Patrol”, as someone could guess), the P-166 DL-3 SEM “Orca”, P-180 CP, AB-412 CP “Koala” and AW-139 CP “Nemo” (with the helos operating within the 2^ Sezione Aerea).

All these assets are assigned to Search And Rescue duties, using the planes for long-range / endurance search missions, and the choppers for short-range / high-readiness rescue missions.

The ATR-42 MP, a twin turboprop 22-mt long patroller, is a multi-sensor platform, capable to fly in bad weather conditions and make a 6-hours reconnaissance. It is equipped with a weather radar, one main research radar, two SLARs (Side-Looking Airborne Radar), along both sides of the tail, one EO/IR Tower (Electro-Optical / Infra-Red) and a powerful search light pod, both mounted under the right side of the fuselage.

The seven people-crew is divided into 5 roles: one Mission commander, two pilots, two systems operators (radars / tower), one TACCO (Tactical Coordinator) and two observers. They work together adding up all systems’ contributions, using radars to discover the targets, the tower to zoom on them and the observers to give a visual confirmation. It often flies at low altitudes over the sea (about 500 ft) and adopts some search schemes fitted for specific kinds of emergency, consisting of a series of straight routes on the areas where probability to find targets is higher.

When targets are finally observed, the TACCO can coordinate a rescue intervention involving also civilian merchant ships in the area or launching inflatable life raft and first aid equipments. The ATR-42 MP is fitted also for anti-pollution (radar surveillance) missions, which is the main mission for P-166 DL-3 SEM, equipped with the hyperspectral high resolution CASI-1500 (Compact Airborne Spectrographic Imager) surveillance system, capable of 1,500 pixels 3D imaging (with a maximum resolution of 25 cm), and for the newest full digital (flies with only 3 crew members) P-180 CP with an EO/IR tower.

The Rescue mission is assigned to choppers, because of their hovering and vertical extraction capabilities. In fact, there is always a flight-ready helo on the parking area of the unit and a pre-alerted crew (formed by two pilots, one system operator, one winch operator and one rescuer) waiting in the crew room, while two other helos/crews are available to be ready-in-30 minutes, for any time-extended mission.

The ITCG helos are capable of complex rescue missions, like the “Concordia” and “Gelso-M” operations, during those several dozen survivors have been saved. The helos were also recently equipped with NVGs (Night Vision Goggles) and the crews are going to be qualified for night missions, while the AW-139 CP search light has been provided with an IR filter, allowing the simultaneous NVG / light visual search.

Obviously, with more than 7,000 km of coasts and the huge SAR area within the Mediterranean Sea under its control, the Italian Coast Guard is one of the main European organizations responsible for the safeguard of the “human life at sea”.